AABL & the Fight for Civil Rights at UH

By Robinson Block

A group of racially diverse students marched to President Hoffman’s office on March 7, 1969. The banner rads “Fight Racism – Support the Black Demands.” Photo Courtesy of Special Collections, Univerisity of Houston Libraries.

The University of Houston (UH) is celebrated today as one of the most diverse research institutions in the nation. It also has one of the oldest African American Studies programs in the country. Located at the edge of the predominantly African American Third Ward, the university’s student body today is thirteen percent African American and more than fifty percent students of color. The transition UH has made from its foundation as an exclusively white university, to becoming a diverse school with ethnic studies programs, owes a great deal of credit to the trailblazing work of the Afro-Americans for Black Liberation student organization. Know as AABL (pronounced “able”), this group of students created and organized around a list of grievances in the spring of 1969 that led to rapid and profound changes for students of color at UH.

Initially, black students had a hard time at UH where they remained a small minority throughout the 1960s. Although classes had become integrated, most student groups remained segregated, and few restaurants would seat black students. Quality student housing near campus was also very difficult to find. By the late sixties, black students began staging sit-ins against segregation at Woolworth’s lunch counters in Houston.

Several national social movements of the late 1960s influenced the events at UH. The civil rights movement had mobilized youth from the North and South to oppose Jim Crow, and the Black Power movement was growing. These movements had taken root in Houston as well, and conflicts inevitably followed.

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